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Montego Bay, affectionately nicknamed MoBay, is the second largest city in Jamaica and is considered the epicenter of tourism there. Many travelers coming to the Caribbean island arrive in Montego Bay at the Sangster International Airport, which handles nine million passengers every year.
Montego Bay is known for much more than its busy airport. Doctor’s Cave Beach, the city’s most famous beach, is very popular with travelers who love its miles of white sand and crystal clear water. Visitors must pay for admission to the beach through the Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club, but they can then enjoy many amenities including a food court, bar and grill, water sports and the ability to rent equipment to use on the beach such as snorkeling gear, beach chairs and towels. So the admission is well worth it.
Gloucester Avenue, also known as the Hip Strip, is parallel to the shoreline and a hub for tourists. It’s packed with shops, bars, restaurants and clubs – all the nightlife a traveler could be looking for. Another must-see area in Montego Bay is Church Street, which is considered the most picturesque street in the city. It is home to many interesting buildings, including the St. James Parish Church, an historic church built in the late 1700s and rebuilt in 1957 after being damaged in an earthquake. The church contains beautiful stained glass and marble monuments. Another historical marker worthy of a visit is Sam Sharpe Square, located in the center of Montego Bay. It’s lined with Georgian-style buildings contrasted by modern structures and is a busy area full of vendors and travelers.
Valid passport needed for entry
Jamaican Standard English (primary spoken language is Jamaican Patois)
Jamaican dollar (American dollars are widely accepted and easy to convert)
Known fondly as MoBay, Montego Bay is the second-largest city in Jamaica and the country's lively epicenter of tourism: Cruise ships frequent its port, and many of the visitors who arrive in Jamaica by plane land just east of Montego Bay at the Sangster International Airport.
The waterfront is lined with white-sand beaches, hotels and elegant resorts. Its main attractions include championship golf courses, excellent beaches, the Montego Bay Marine Park and some classic Georgian architecture downtown. Gloucester Avenue, known locally as the Hip Strip, parallels the shore and is the commercial tourist hub.
Because it's a much larger city than Jamaica's other tourist areas, Montego Bay offers more in the way of sightseeing, shopping and nightlife.
Sights—Snorkeling and diving at Montego Bay Marine Park; visiting Dolphin Cove Negril in Lucea to become a dolphin trainer for a day.
Museums—Rose Hall Great House, recalling the historic significance of the plantation-slave era; Croydon Plantation, granting a latter-day perspective on the workings of a modern sugar plantation.
Memorable Meals—Nouvelle cuisine at the Houseboat Grill International Restaurant; mouth-searing jerk chicken, pork or fish at Scotchies.
Late Night—Nonstop partying on the Hip Strip; letting your hair down at Margaritaville; the Monday-night street party on Gloucester Avenue; jazz and drinks at Blue Beat on the Hip Strip.
Walks—The historic downtown, with its colorful, bustling life, Sam Sharpe Square, St. James Parish Church and the craft market.
Especially for Kids—Pirate's Paradise and Sugar Mill Falls water parks; Animal Farm.
The largest town on the north coast, Montego Bay occupies a broad valley and the slopes of the surrounding Bogue, Kempshot and Salem hills. The beaches line the east side of the bay, north of downtown.
Residents tend to live downtown, south of the square and in the hills. Hotels, tourist-oriented businesses and vendors are concentrated to the north along Gloucester Avenue—the main tourist strip. The main all-inclusive resorts line the sandy shore and extend for several miles/kilometers east of the airport, which is northeast of town.
Highway A1 (the North Coast Highway) is the main thoroughfare. Upgrades to the road have reduced the drive time from Montego Bay to the other major cities.
Christopher Columbus named the bay Golfo de Buen Tiempo, or Gulf of Fair Weather. Montego's modern name comes from the Spanish Bahia de Manteca, or Bay of Pigs' Lard, after the large quantity of lard exported by the Spanish. (It came from the wild boars that lived in the hills around the bay.) The Spanish also planted sugarcane, importing slaves from Africa to work the plantations. After the British drove the Spanish out in 1655, they continued the plantation tradition. The town grew, with warehouses and lavish homes sprouting up along the waterfront.
Around Christmas 1831, slave and part-time preacher Sam Sharpe convinced other slaves to stage a nonviolent strike. The rebellion turned violent, however, and it was brutally suppressed by British troops. Sharpe and several other slaves were hanged in Montego Bay. The square where the gallows stood is now named for Sharpe (a statue there honors him as a national hero).
Early seeds of tourism were sown in Montego Bay when wealthy plantation owners took their families to Doctor's Cave Beach, where the mineral springs were thought to have curative powers. By 1908, the Montego Bay Citizens' Association was promoting the city as "the most beautiful spot in Jamaica." Although hotels emerged, tourism remained limited until the advent of commercial jet aviation. Ensuing decades witnessed construction of top-class hotels in the hills, and all-inclusive resorts were built in the 1980s. Cruise traffic has been given a boost by enhancements to the harbor, and a convention center is located just east of the city.
Eccentric billionaire Sir Richard Branson opened the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship for the Caribbean in Montego Bay in 2011. Aspiring young professionals get a shot at their wildest dreams there.
The expanse of land from the Hip Strip to the Parish Library was once part of the shore, and all development there is fairly recent, within the past 30-50 years.
Doctor's Cave Beach does not have a cave. It was destroyed by a hurricane in the 1800s.
The Morant Point Lighthouse—an unmistakable red-and-white, 100-ft-/31-m-tall, 18-ft-/6-km-wide cast-iron tower—was built in 1841 and is the oldest lighthouse in Jamaica.
The Burchell Baptist Church was a haven for freed slaves and was where Sam Sharpe, one of seven national heroes, instigated the rebellion that led to the 1834 Abolition Bill.
The Montego Freeport was originally a group of keys to the west of Montego Bay. The harbor was dredged and the land built up to facilitate this development.
The tiny cemetery at the end of the Hip Strip is the little-known Jewish cemetery, with gravestones dating back hundreds of years. The cemetery was declared a national monument in 1993.
Montego Bay is a golfer's nirvana with several championship courses within a 10-minute drive of one another.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back was filmed at Villa No. 11 at the Round Hill Resort in 1998. The romance between actors Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs sparked a wave of travel to Montego Bay and the resort.
As many as four cruise ships can dock at the pier in Montego Bay's Freeport zone, about 3 mi/5 km west of downtown. The city spreads east and north around the harbor from the Freeport zone past the town center and the tourist district. There's a tourist-information booth in the cruise ship terminal, a telecommunications center, a refreshment stand and many duty-free shops.
When you get off your ship you'll walk into a fenced, secure area that's off-limits to vendors and unlicensed taxis. There's plenty of licensed transportation available. A taxi ride to the city center will cost about US$10. Don't walk from the terminal to town: It's a hot, shadeless 3-mi/5-km hike. There is no public bus service between the pier and town.
Another option is to take one of the JCAL (Jamaica Cooperative Automobile & Limousine Tours; phone 876-971-8063) or JUTA shuttles (phone 876-952-0813) that run from the pier. They charge about US$5 for a trip to the city center. If you specify a time that you want to return to the pier, the driver will return for you.
The Tourism Product Development Co. (TPDCO) licenses attractions (Jamaica has 150 licensed attractions, more than any other Caribbean island). It is located in the Jamaican Tourism Centre and is open Monday-Thursday 8:30 am-5 pm, Friday 8:30 am-4 pm. Phone 876-979-7987. http://www.tpdco.org.
Typical excursions out of Montego Bay are tours of historic houses and plantations, a round of golf, overland treks by bus or on horseback, and forays to explore underwater mysteries in a semisubmersible boat or through a snorkeling mask.
Shore excursions—and their prices—vary. Check with your travel agent for additional information.
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